Living in the Forest Research Institute is an amazing experience. Having lived in Delhi for the last 5 years (and Bangalore and Moscow before that), I realized what fresh air smells like, what it feels like to breathe it regularly. It is amazing waking up to the beautiful songs of birds. In fact, there is a bird nest in our hostel next to the staircase! These days, the mornings are amazing because of the late sunrise and the mist that hangs about till 7 in the morning.
But there are downsides to this place as well. One of the biggest issues I have, is the sheer number of monkeys that live in the place; a live example of Human-Wildlife conflict for me.
The monkeys in forests are markedly different monkeys you find in urban areas because of their boldness. If you have ever encountered monkeys in a city, any aggressive stand on your part will make them scamper away. Here, that is not the case. If you make the mistake of showing even the slightest signs of aggressiveness, they take it as a challenge.
Just the other day, I was walking up to my room after having a late breakfast. I was looking forward to the book I was reading (The Partner, by John Grisham); I wasn’t particularly attentive to what is in front of me. Suddenly, I found myself in front of a monkey. That monkey was just as surprised as I was. For a moment, we just stood there.
Then, I decided to break the impasse and took a step forward. “Hisss!” it responded and sprang forward. I jumped down the stairs backwards, miraculously staying on my feet (I could have easily tripped and twisted my ankle, or cracked my skull or both) and ran for it.
I came back 5 minutes later from another direction and bolted into my room when I saw that monkey’s tail next to the staircase near my room.
They’re not just bold when they come in direct contact with humans; even when no one is here, they strut in like they own the place. I once made the mistake of leaving my balcony door open and going off to class. My roommate was sleeping in the room anyway; I didn’t think there would be an issue. How wrong was I.
A couple of monkeys (I’m guessing, I wasn’t there) came in through the balcony, walked in and thoroughly explored my room. They even opened my cupboard and rummaged my clothes. They must have noticed my roommate because his side of the room lay undisturbed, but my side was certainly investigated. They even got curious about two pickle bottles I had left in my cupboard. They must have tried to open it, but they couldn’t and they dropped it. The two bottles smashed on the ground and woke up my roommate who had enough time to see them bolting across the room and out the balcony (hmmm. Not so bold around smashed pickle bottles, are they?).
This isn’t the first time they have calmly walked into one’s room. Another friend of mine, Abhishek told me that this huge alpha male actually managed to open the door from the outside by banging it repeatedly (faulty latch, apparently). It walked in, surveyed him with nonchalantly and proceeded to check out his wardrobe. Abhishek was in bed, reading and couldn’t do a thing. Each time he tried to make a move, the monkey would peep around the wardrobe just like your mom does when she has just punished you, as if to say, “Don’t you dare, mister!”
Having studied human-wildlife conflicts, and knowing that we are the ones encroaching on their habitat, we choose the path of least resistance in our conflicts with them. We do retaliate with shouts and threats sometimes, but only when the strength of numbers is with us. We’re choosing to live and let live. It’s hard, it’s a dodgy relationship, but we’re hanging in there!